Organic Crops: Are they meeting your expectations?

By Meghan Barnett, Animal Sciences major

USDA organic guidelines do not allow the use of irradiation, most synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, sewage sludge, or genetically modified organisms.

There are pretty strict guidelines to be “Certified Organic,” and operations must be properly accredited; a process that is both time consuming and costly.

But is everything what you expected? Or are there some surprising standard practices?

While most synthetic materials are avoided, farmers may use approved chemicals during organic crop growth. Interestingly, high concentrations of chemicals are allowed in wash water, as long as a final rinse is a low concentration. In addition, plastic and synthetic mulches are allowed if they are removed from fields after the harvesting season. Strangely, the disposal of these non-biodegradable materials does not seem to be mentioned.

Organic Certifying Agents are required to do periodic residue testing, but only on a minimum of 5% of the operations they are responsible for certifying. With more effort on prevention, this is understandable. However, this may mean that accidental contamination could go unnoticed for some time.

Manures from conventional operations, including livestock fed genetically engineered ingredients, are allowed for organic crop fertilizer. While it is mentioned that herbicide residue is possible, manures are suggested for residue testing only if contamination is suspected in excessive amounts. This seems odd considering the firm stance against these for general use in organic production.

Organic means “protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and only using approved substances.” But beyond the motto, details are important. Consumers should research terms and procedures and make educated decisions to be confident they support their purchases.

Information in this post was adapted from material available at www.usda.gov and from the U.S. Government Publishing Office’s Electronic Code of Federal Regulations for the National Organic Program

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This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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